Rendering of  SoHa Union, a new development on Harford Road.

An arts district is emerging near Lauraville, with apartments, studios, and maker spaces for creative types who want to live and work in the area.

SoHa Row and SoHa Union are the names of development projects that Sam Polakoff is building in the 4700 and 4800 blocks of Harford Road, a commercial corridor that serves the neighborhoods of Lauraville, Hamilton, Arcadia and Moravia-Walther.

A play on SoHo, the transformative arts district in New York, Polakoff’s SoHa Row and SoHa Union are a mix of new construction and rehabbed commercial buildings that together will add  50,000 square feet of space for photographers, graphic designers, visual artists, musicians and others.

To call attention to the venture, Polakoff has filled the windows of the buildings undergoing rehabilitation with black and white graphics bearing the words, SoHa Row. Bob Gillespie was the graphic artist.

SoHa Row

“What do you think it stands for?” he asks. “It could be South Harford Road. It could also be southern Hamilton.” Either way, “SoHa is easier to say…We’re trying to create an environment and a vibe in the community.” 

Known for his work with Baltimore’s School for the Arts and Station North arts district, Polakoff led a building-by-building, room-by-room tour of the emerging district last week for area residents and prospective tenants.

Sam Polakoff
Sam Polakoff

The spaces in SoHa Row range from a 145-square-foot studio to a 1,400 square foot space that could be a dance hall. Polakoff said he already has rented the first floor of 4719 Harford Road to a restaurant operator, but can’t disclose details yet except to say it will be a locally-owned business and not a chain. Once word gets out, he said, others likely will want to be nearby.

His vision is to have commercial spaces at ground level, to add life to the street, and smaller studios on the upper levels.  He said he has been working on the project for the past several months, will build to suit as tenants emerge, and may add more buildings if there is demand.

Alexander Design Studio is the project architect and Constantine Commercial Construction is the contractor. The first spaces will be ready next year.

“All the spaces are different,” he said.  “We’re sort of doing this in bits and chunks.”

Polakoff, the president of Property Consulting Inc. has other projects underway, including the renovation of the former Odell’s night club on North Avenue, with Jubilee Baltimore.

He said he chose the Harford Road corridor as a place to develop property because he believes it has potential for the type of work he specializes in. He said he has patronized businesses in the area for many years, including the Hamilton Tavern, Clementine, Maggie’s Farm and “The Chameleon before it was Maggie’s,” and likes what’s happening in the area.

The first property he bought along the corridor was a vacant lot at 4801 Harford Road. That’s where he plans to build a four-level structure called SoHa Union, with 16 apartments and street-level commercial space.

While he was planning how to develop the vacant lot, he said, the American Beauty Academy closed and he bought its real estate in the 4700 block, which includes several buildings and a large parking lot in the rear. The properties are already zoned for mixed-use development.

According to Regina Lansinger, director of  Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street Inc., the SoHa Row property is technically in an area called Moravia-Walther. But it is across the street from Lauraville, south of Hamilton and north of Arcadia.

Polakoff notes that SoHa Row is not intended to be a state-sanctioned arts and entertainment district like Station North, Highlandtown or the Bromo district. He said the spaces aren’t even restricted to artists, although that is a key market he wants to serve.

“It’s not a state-sanctioned arts and entertainment district, but it’s home to a lot of artists,” he said of the area.  “I think the artist community could be a very important part of what we are creating.”

In terms of the final mix of tenants, “you guys are going to decide,” Polakoff said to the people on the tour. “The market is going to decide what people want.”

Polakoff said he has already begun rehabbing the existing buildings and hopes to start site work for SoHa Union before the year ends. He declined to say how much he is investing.

The tour drew more than a dozen people, including a photographer, a paper cut artist, and Ellen Cherry, a  “song and story alchemist.”

Annie Howe, the paper cut artist, said she likes the area and is interested in leasing space at  SoHa Row “I just like it here and I would like to be able to work here too,” she said.

Lansinger, from Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street, said Polakoff’s development is consistent with other plans for the area, which call for encouraging locally-owned businesses rather than chain stores and growing incrementally by giving the community what it wants.

“We’re very home grown here,” she said. “So much of our success has been very organic. We’re not trying to force anything here.”

Lansinger added that she is impressed that Polakoff met with the community early on to present his plans and has continued to work with area residents.

“He’s bringing something very exciting here,” she said.

Polakoff said he remembers a time when local artists gravitated to Fells Point because it was affordable. When artists were priced out of Fells Point, he said, many of them moved to Hampden and helped revive that area. Now prices are rising in Hampden, limiting who can move there.

“This neighborhood,” by contrast, “is a real value from a homeowner’s standpoint,” he said. “It’s a value proposition. After the recession, people are looking for value.”

Does that mean Lauraville is the next Hampden?

“It’s not the next Fells Point,” he said. “It’s not the next Hampden. I see it as the next SoHa. I see it as its own village. This is going to be exceptional for its uniqueness.”

Citron Baltimore opens at Quarry Lake

Citron Baltimore, a Contemporary American restaurant by Charles Levine, opens today at 2605 Quarry Lake Drive in Baltimore County, with a dining room, bar, outside patio and waterfront deck seating overlooking Quarry Lake. Coming early next year: The Cove at Citron, a wedding and events venue next to Citron.

Cafe Fili coming to Mount Vernon

There’s a new tenant coming to the former Milk and Honey market space at 816 Cathedral Street in Mount Vernon. Signs in the windows say the next occupant will be Café Fili, a Mediterranean café featuring paninis, soups, salads, flatbreads, coffee, tea, wine, beer, and cocktails.

On November 3, the city’s liquor board was scheduled to consider an application from Johanna Sternberg and Z. Maalour for a Class B restaurant license with outdoor table service, but the meeting was postponed and has not been rescheduled.

Read’s Drug Store redevelopment moves ahead

Plans to turn the former Read’s Drug Store at Howard and Lexington streets into an $11 million home for Spotlighters Theatre moved ahead this month when the Baltimore Development Corporation gave the theater organization an exclusive negotiating privilege that will give directors time to raise funds to purchase and renovate property.

Plans by Cho Benn Holback + Associates call for the four-level, 16,000-square-foot  building to contain a 120-seat theater, dressing rooms, rehearsal space, a costume shop, classrooms and a multipurpose rental space with a catering kitchen. There also will be a replica of the 1955 Read’s lunch counter where students at what is now Morgan State University staged an early sit-in to protest that the Read’s chain would not serve African-Americans at its lunch counters.

The building will be renamed the Audrey Herman Community Arts Center, after the theater’s founder.

Hampton Inn breaks ground near Bayview

The Cherry Cove Group of Lexington Park, Maryland, has broken ground for a five-level, 115room Hampton Inn by Hilton at 6571 Eastern Avenue near the Johns Hopkins Bayview medical campus.

Completion of the $17 million project is expected by early 2018. This is the first project in Baltimore for the Cherry Cove Group, which is also planning a Homewood Suites near Bayview.

Last House Standing performances this weekend

Arena Players will present “Last House Standing,” a play by Sheila Gaskins about Baltimore’s Highway to Nowhere, on Friday, November 11 and Saturday, November 12, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 13, at 4 p.m. Tickets cost $13 to $15. The Arena Playhouse is at 801 N. McCulloh Street.

Henderson-Hopkins School wins a design award

Henderson-Hopkins School. Picture via
Henderson-Hopkins School. Picture via

The Henderson-Hopkins School in East Baltimore has won yet another design award.

The New York architecture firm of Rogers Partners received a silver award in the educational buildings category of the 2016 American Architecture Prize program, which honors top designs in architecture, interior design and landscape architecture around the world. Henderson-Hopkins was the only project in Maryland to win an award during the October 25 ceremony at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.

Rogers has won more a dozen major design awards for the university partnership, K-8 school at 2100 Ashland Avenue but hasn’t been hired to design anything more in Baltimore.


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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.